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Published December 23, 2013, 02:32 PM

Angel in an apron: Salvation Army cook feeds own soul while feeding hungry

FARGO – Every day, Cassidy Belland feeds hungry souls. As kitchen supervisor for the Salvation Army, Belland, 36, plans and prepares the twice-daily meals, creatively using donated food and freezer space.

By: Sherri Richards, INFORUM

FARGO – Every day, Cassidy Belland feeds hungry souls.

As kitchen supervisor for the Salvation Army, Belland, 36, plans and prepares the twice-daily meals, creatively using donated food and freezer space.

The kitchen in downtown Fargo serves about three dozen people for breakfast every day and on average 120 people for lunch.

“It fills my heart to be able to help out in a little way … in a big way,” Belland says. “I wish I could help them more.”

As she looks at familiar faces lined up in the dining hall, she wishes the positive changes in her life brought about by the Salvation Army could happen for them.

When her mother died in 2002, Belland’s life veered off course, she says, spreading apart her arms to illustrate.

“I was really going down the wrong path seven years ago,” Belland says. “I just knew I couldn’t go on that way.

“I fell down on my knees, and I prayed to God to come back in to my life.”

Soon after, she started working at the Salvation Army Thrift Store through a nonprofit employee placement program.

“I felt so much better,” she says.

That led to part-time and later full-time work. She eventually became a supervisor at the 45th Street South location.

Belland says her manager saw the best in her and encouraged her. So did others in leadership at the Salvation Army, such as Steve Carbno and Capt. Adam Moore, she says.

“They saw the good in me and helped me to move forward,” she says.

But the location closed in 2012, and she was laid off.

So when the kitchen position opened up and applications were minimal, family services director Tai Clark knew to call Belland.

“She had a reputation of being a hard worker, someone who always went above and beyond,” Clark says.

Belland didn’t have experience in commercial cooking. She knew how to make macaroni and cheese for her two sons, not for the masses.

“We knew she would do a good job, because she cared,” Clark says. “She was really connected to the work of the Salvation Army.

“We knew she saw this as her home,” Clark adds.

Belland started in September 2012, largely “winging” the meal planning, she says.

She searched cookbooks for tasty-sounding dishes with minimal ingredients. She tested recipes on her husband and two sons.

Now she knows what works, she says.

Joe McGovern works alongside Belland as kitchen assistant. He’s spent 30 years working in restaurants.

“She’s the best boss I ever had,” McGovern says. “She keeps me grounded.”

Also, he says, “She doesn’t cook slop.”

Clark says the quality and nutrition of the meals have improved under Belland’s watch, describing her as highly organized, flexible and not afraid of hard work.

“She will run circles around you,” Clark says.

Belland arrives by 7:30 a.m. to make coffee and set up the breakfast bar, usually cereal and milk plus pastries. Once a week she’ll cook a hot breakfast.

Then it’s on to lunch preparations.

On a recent Friday, the menu included meatloaf, mashed potatoes, gravy and corn.

She directs the volunteers who mix 40 pounds of ground beef with eggs, milk, cracker crumbs and dressing to make Joe’s Ranch Meatloaf, a recipe McGovern has wanted Belland to make for months.

Belland turns a giant steel bowl with one hand while holding a whisk in the other to mix batter for banana bread. Ham defrosts in the sink for Sunday’s scalloped potatoes.

At 10 a.m., Belland sits with staff at a table for coffee break, but she doesn’t stay long before she’s back in a white plastic apron.

She gets two college-age volunteers started on instant mashed potatoes.

“Don’t follow the instructions on the box,” she tells them before relaying the amounts of water, milk, butter and salt. “I’ve got it down.”

She pauses to accept a bucketful of beets from a farmer. She tells a volunteer to fill condiment bottles.

As the pans of meatloaf are readied for the oven, Belland scribbles on the back of her hand with her finger, calculating the number of servings she can get from each one.

She puts on a plastic glove to re-pat the ground beef mixture.

“You’ve got to have the corner piece just as good as the middle piece,” she says. “Somebody gets the corner piece as well.”

At 11:30, Belland greets the crowd. She runs through the menu for the day. She asks everyone to remove their hats. “Let’s pray,” she says, before turning it over to a volunteer.

Francine Gilmore of Moorhead, a regular Friday volunteer for the past year, says she doesn’t know how Belland does the job.

“She keeps it together; she stays calm; she gives everybody directions,” Gilmore says.

Sometimes volunteers just show up, Gilmore says, like college students who need to volunteer for class.

“She manages to find a job for everybody,” Gilmore says.

And, she keeps everybody working together, she adds.

Clark says Belland can seem guarded. “I think she has some life experiences that have led her to have a heart to serve others but have made it hard to get close to her,” she says.

Belland doesn’t elaborate on her past except that her story would fill a book.

She focuses instead on the volunteers and the donations, like the bread from Panera and Erbert & Gerbert’s that she turns into grilled cheese sandwiches and bread pudding.

“I’m grateful for what I’ve been given and what I have,” Belland says.

The gratitude she’s shown by the hungry souls she feeds keeps her going, she says, and makes her want to do better.

“One guy said, ‘You know you’re going to heaven, right?’ ” Belland recalls.

“We can pray,” she said in response.

HOW TO HELP

Volunteers are needed from 7:30 a.m. to mid-afternoon to assist with meal preparation, serving and other kitchen tasks. Call Kimberly Wagner at (701) 356-2688.

Food donations can be brought to the southwest door of the Salvation Army, 304 Roberts St., Fargo. (701) 232-5565, ext. 307.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556

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